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Assault vs. Battery: Differences, Examples, and Penalties

Many people think “assault” and “battery” are two words used to refer to the same crime. However, in Florida, these are different but related crimes. If you don’t know the differences in assault vs. battery charges, here’s an in-depth look at the legal meaning of each and what sets them apart.

Defining Assault and Battery

If you aren’t familiar with Florida law, you might be surprised by the definitions of assault and battery.

What is considered assault? According to Florida § 784.011, an assault is a verbal or physical threat of violence toward another person. In order to meet the legal definition of assault, the action must reasonably cause fear in the other person, and the person issuing the threat must appear to be able to follow through on that threat.

What is considered battery? Florida § 784.03 establishes that battery is when a person intentionally hits or touches another person against that person’s will or intentionally causes someone bodily harm.

Essentially, battery happens if the perpetrator touches, hits, or harms another person (or causes them bodily harm) against their will. Assault happens when the perpetrator threatens harm but does not inflict it.

Examples of Assault vs. Battery

The best way to understand the difference between assault and battery is to look at a few examples.

Example of Assault: Suppose you’re walking down the street when an unfamiliar man approaches you. He seems angry, and he lunges forward, attempting to shove you against the wall of a building. You jump out of the way, and he misses entirely.

By trying to shove you, the man was issuing a physical threat, and it was pretty clear he would follow through. Since the man didn’t touch you, this event could be reported as assault but not battery.

However, if you’re walking down the street and the same man punches you in the face, he has committed battery — he has struck you against your will.

What Sets Assault Apart From Battery?

What is the difference between assault and battery? The primary difference is that battery involves some kind of physical contact. Assault does not. In many cases, assault is a kind of attempted battery — the perpetrator tries to strike someone or otherwise do physical harm to them, but they don’t succeed.

Legal Penalties for Assault

Law books that discuss the legal penalties for assault

In Florida, simple assault is a misdemeanor, meaning it’s less severe than a felony offense. More specifically, it’s a second-degree misdemeanor. There are two degrees of misdemeanors in Florida; first-degree misdemeanors are the more serious of the two.

What Happens if You’re Convicted of Assault in Florida?

The legal penalty for assault is a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to $500. Judges have some discretion regarding sentencing, but you’re usually more likely to receive a harsher sentence if you have prior criminal convictions.

However, in some cases, a person can be charged with the more severe offense of aggravated assault. In an aggravated assault, a person either uses or shows a deadly weapon while attempting to commit a felony offense. For instance, if someone threatens you with a gun while committing a robbery, that constitutes aggravated assault.

Unlike simple assault, aggravated assault is a felony offense. It’s a third-degree felony, the least severe felony offense in Florida. It still comes with hefty penalties — if you’re convicted of aggravated assault, you may face up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

Legal Penalties for Battery

Because battery involves making actual physical contact with a victim, it’s considered to be a more severe offense than assault. Battery is a first-degree misdemeanor, so it’s the most severe in Florida and one step down from a felony.

Type of Battery Legal Penalty Additional Details
Simple Battery Up to 1 year in jail Up to $1,000 in fines
Battery in a Riot Third-degree felony Up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines
Aggravated Battery Second-degree felony Up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines - Victim was pregnant- Perpetrator used a weapon

- Perpetrator intended to cause significant bodily harm, disfigurement, or disability

Repeated Battery Third-degree felony If there are prior convictions of battery-related offenses

The legal penalty for battery is harsher than the one for assault: it’s up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

However, there is a caveat: under Florida law, if you commit battery as part of a riot, you commit a third-degree felony. With this kind of felony conviction, you can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

Just like with assault, battery can also be aggravated. Several different circumstances can raise the charge of simple battery to a charge of aggravated battery:

  • If the victim was pregnant
  • If the perpetrator used a weapon
  • If the perpetrator intended to cause significant bodily harm, disfigurement, or disability

Aggravated battery is a second-degree felony offense, and it’s punishable by up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

There’s one more way a simple battery charge can be raised to a felony. If you have a prior conviction of aggravated battery, felony battery, or simple battery and you’re convicted of battery again, you have committed a third-degree felony.

Common Defenses for Assault and Battery

Lawyer discussing common defenses for assault and battery with a client

If you’ve been charged with assault or battery, you’re facing serious crime charges. Having an experienced legal team is incredibly valuable. A good lawyer will go over your case and create a personalized defense.

Defenses for assault vs. battery are fairly similar, and many of them fall into a few general categories. Here are some of the most common defenses against these charges:

Self-Defense

Self-defense is probably the most common defense in assault and battery cases because your attorney won’t argue the fact that you used physical violence (or threatened it). Instead, they’ll say that you believed you would be imminently physically harmed if you did not react defensively.

With self-defense, the jury considers all available evidence and decides whether a reasonable person would act the way you did if they were in the same situation. If you deliberately provoked someone and then used violence to get them away from you, the jury likely won’t believe you acted in genuine self-defense.

Notably, self-defense can’t apply if you’re doing something illegal. For example, if you break into a house and the homeowner is threatening to hit you if you don’t leave, you can’t legally throw a punch at the homeowner to protect yourself.

Fortunately, lawyers have enough experience in the field that they typically will have a good idea of whether a self-defense argument will work in your case. If you want the strongest and most detailed defense possible, always be honest with your attorney.

Defense of Property

Under many circumstances, Florida allows citizens to use non-lethal force to defend their property. For instance, threatening someone with a gun would typically fit the definition of assault. But if someone attempts to carjack you and you threaten them with a gun, you’re very unlikely to be convicted of assault.

However, there are some stipulations. Three things need to be true to justify your use of force:

  1. The other person was either trespassing or interacting wrongly with your property.
  2. The property was legally in your possession or the possession of your immediate family.
  3. You reasonably believed you needed to use or threaten force to prevent the other person’s illegal behavior.

Just like with self-defense, your attorney will be able to assess the facts of your case and determine whether “defense of property” is the best defense to use.

Defense of Others

Florida law permits the use of force (either deadly or non-deadly) to stop someone who is attempting to inflict bodily harm on someone else.

For example, if someone was attempting to kidnap your child and you punched that person to get them to stop, your use of force will likely be considered legal. However, if you just punched someone for no clear reason, you probably would be charged with battery.

Consent

Consent isn’t a particularly common defense. However, if the victim of assault or battery consented to the use of force, your lawyer might be able to argue that you’re not guilty. For this defense to be applicable, the victim must have gained some kind of benefit.

For example, let’s say you offer a friend $10 if the friend lets you punch them. Under these circumstances, you will likely be acquitted if you’re charged with battery. It’s certainly a bizarre circumstance, but it’s an illustration of one of the few circumstances where the consent defense might work.

Seeking Legal Advice for Assault and Battery Cases

Both assault and battery are serious crimes in the state of Florida. If you’ve been charged with either, you need an experienced attorney by your side. A great lawyer can help you formulate a strong defense strategy. Even if you aren’t acquitted of the crime, your lawyer might be able to successfully argue for a lighter sentence.

At The Denson Firm, our misdemeanor battery attorneys and criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience representing those who have been charged with assault or battery. Contact us today or set up a free phone consultation to see how we may be able to help you.

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